The right of student to free speech is a matter that has been debated over years. Where many people claim that students, just like any other group of people, have the right of free speech, others claim that students should know where their limits end. Therefore, at many schools, colleges and universities, the students are provided with a code of conduct that they have to follow. This code of conduct defines rules of speech for the students; to tell them where they have to start speaking and where they should end. These codes have also been controversial in some places.
The right of free speech can be highlighted from the fact that the distinguishing feature between human beings and other creatures is speech. By the freedom of speech, one does not only mean to speak what one feels like speaking, but it means to express one's knowledge and to show one's desire for knowledge and learning. This is the reason why the Supreme Court of the United States of America has formed a distinct body of case law that is related to the right of students to freedom of expression and speech. These rights for students were devised under the First Amendment.
Morse V. Frederick case is particularly significant when it comes to the rights of students. The background of this case is such that an 18-year-old boy named Joseph Frederick was suspended by his school principal called Deborah Morse in 2002. He was suspended after he was seen displaying a banner that read "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" at the time of the Olympic Torch Relay of 2002 (Mears, 2007). As a result of this, Morse was sued by Frederick because the former claimed that the principal violated his rights to free speech provided to him by the constitution. The case, after getting dismissed, was won by Fredrick.
Morse V. Fredrick
This case holds significance since it diverts one's attention towards the provision of right of freedom to the students. After Fredrick put up the banner across the street of his school, he was suspended by his principal. As a result, he sued his principal. However, Roberts (Chief Justice) who wrote for the majority stated that the First Amendment was not violated by the school administration.
Legal determinations were made by the Chief Justice to conclude that Fredrick's rights were not violated. The first one was that the doctrine of "school speech" was applicable in this case because the banner that was put up by Fredrick was done "at a school event." Secondly, what banner read "clearly promoted the illegal use of drugs" and thirdly the principal had the right to restrict the speech of the students legally.
Initially, the Chief Justice gave the ruling that the court should look into Fredrick's speech in the light of relatively staunch policy of "school speech," which was a rejection of Fredrick's demand to consider his case in the supervision of the ordinary free-speech jurisprudence. Later on, Roberts also claimed that even though there was doubt in ascertaining the boundaries of the school, the superintendent agreed with him that Fredrick cannot deny his presence at school when he carries out a certain activity during school timings with his school friends.
There were some groups that supported Fredrick in this case, whereas the others considered the principal right. The organizations that stood by Fredrick's side included some Christian right groups, Rutherford Institute and American Center for Law and Justice. The reason why the Christians groups supported Fredrick was that they had their reservations about the prohibition of religious speech with which the school administration might disagree and consider "offensive."
On the other hand, the groups that supported the principal Morse along with the Juneau school district include the National Schools Boards Association. They put forth the argument that it is the duty of the school administration to regulate any kind of controversial speech (Biskupic, 2007). Moreover the Solicitor General of U.S., Paul Clement also supported the decision of the school administration and demanded the prohibition of controversial speech at school.
There are many reasons that support the argument that students should be given the right to freedom of speech, and expression, under the constitution. In this section, we will look into some of the fundamental reasons on which we can base our argument. Firstly, students should have the right to speak and express themselves without any constraint because it is important for human self-fulfillment. What distinguishes the human being from animals and other creatures is the fact that humans have the power to speak and to think. If restrictions are placed on the speech and expression of feelings and thoughts of human beings, then they will not be able to realize the extent of their complete and distinctive humanity.
The second reason is truth. Truth is something that needs to be discovered constantly. The students will never find their way to the relevant facts and the truth unless they reveal their arguments and opinions, which is only possible through freedom of speech. Even if what we are saying is not the complete truth, it can definitely lead us to the truth. If students are not given the chance to debate freely and to put forward their opinions and their worldview, they will not be provided with good government. It is important for the citizens of the society to participate in active politics, and one of the ways is through free speech. By expressing their opinions, they can come with alternatives that can actually contribute towards the betterment of the society.
This time is an era of complete globalization. The world has become a global village where the distances have died. Everyone feels close to the other, even if they are sitting miles away from each other. By either living in the same place or by connecting through mobiles and internet, the world has become a neighborhood. Therefore, the need of time is that we have to understand in what ways the people living across the border are different from us. Since students play a very major role in the promotion of cross-cultural activities, it is important that they should be given the right to freedom of speech so that they can discuss the matters openly; matters of human and cultural differences, for a better understanding (Ash, 2012).
Most of us agree that students should be given the right to free speech, but some of us have our reservations. This is because of the negative consequences of freedom of speech. Therefore, it is very important for school administration as well as the parents of the students to regulate the speech of the students in a way that it benefits all. Sometimes, freedom of speech can lead to harassment. For example, if the students have no restriction as to whatever they want to say, they might end up hurting their colleagues. The minorities and the oppressed groups particularly become the target of this harassment in which case free speech only promotes social injustice.
High school students tend to misuse their right to freedom of speech to bully their fellows, which can lead to destructive behavior of the one who is being bullied. Also, in a classroom setting, when students get involved in extraneous conversations, they are to be stopped by the teacher and this act should not be considered a violation of their right to free speech.
Keeping in mind the aftermath of the Morse V. Fredrick case, the school administrations need to be very careful when dealing with the students pertaining to their speech and expression of feelings. In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court of America was not able to come up with a solution for all the problems. Fredrick had claimed that his…